Waiting for clock to tick again

Waiting for clock to tick again

Waiting for clock to tick again

Every morning when 52-year-old Sujit Kumar went for a brisk walk at Patna’s Eco Park, he would pause for a few seconds near the Old Secretariat. He would synchronise his watch with the clock on the 184-foot-high tower everyday without fail, before proceeding for his rapid stride.    

However, since early June he has not been able to do so. Reason: The clock has developed a snag and is now stuck at 10.53 for more than a month. “No body exactly knows whether it stopped at 10.53 am or 10.53 pm, but we have requisitioned a team of horologists from Kolkata to rectify the fault,” an official of the Building Construction Department  (BCD) said. 

Even as the mandarins were busy debating whether such British-era clock would be rectified, or a digital clock like the one at Patna junction should be installed, a team of executives from Kolkata-based firm Anglo Swiss Watch Company arrived here to take stock of the snag.

This is the same company which, since 1908, has been into manufacturing and repairing such clocks. “Anglo Swiss Watch Company has the experience and expertise in this sector as it also maintains the clock towers in Shimla (Mall Road), Kolkata, Bhagalpur and Amritsar,” said the official. The team, during its inspection, found that pinions and some other parts had been damaged.     

The team members assured the officials of the BCD, under whose jurisdiction the maintenance of clock tower comes, that they would rectify the fault by July-end. “The team promised that there was no need to replace this landmark clock with a digital one. The horologists would carry out the repair work in Kolkata, which may take nearly one month. All they would do is to take the pinion and several other parts of the clock to their office in Kolkata and repair them within the stipulated timeframe,” said the official. 

 “We have the expertise in repairing clocks fitted on towers and we will hopefully repair the clock on the Old Secretariat tower too. While the pinion would be repaired, a few other spare parts would be replaced,” a horologist from the Swiss Watch Company told the Bihar Government officials.

One of the best pieces of Churchill-pattern clock tower in India, much like the one in Shimla on Mall Road, the clock was fitted on the tower in Old Secretariat in 1924. “Originally, the clock tower was 198-foot-high but a small portion fell during the massive earthquake in 1934 thereby reducing its height to 184 feet,” a retired engineer of BCD, UN Choudhary, who was earlier in-charge of the clock tower, told Deccan Herald.

Two clockmakers from England, Gillete and Johnson had made the Churchill pattern clock-- such clocks have a patterned round face and larger digits than usual.   

The clock tower is the prime attraction of the Old Secretariat, also called the main secretariat building, which was designed by an architect Joseph F Munnings of Sydney, Australia, and built by Martin Burn of Calcutta.

Quoting a coffee-table book “Patna-- a monumental history” released by the Department of Art, Culture and Youth Affairs, the official said, “The clock tower is a prominent feature of the Old Secretariat building. The building is 716 feet long and 364 feet wide and remains the largest building in the state capital. Its grand architectural style is a blend of Neo Gothic and Pseudo-renaissance. High Doric columns reaching the sloping roof above achieve the impressive elevation. The centre is emphasised by the high brick clock tower over the central staircase while the portico is of double height supported on paired Doric columns carrying the Mansard Foot above.”

Munnings borrowed the design of the Secretariat building from the Union Buildings of Pretoria (South Africa) built by Herbert Baker, an architect of Secretariat and Council House, and the New Delhi Capital area. Munnings, who designed the new capital at Patna, was the consulting architect of the newly formed State of Bihar and Odisha during 1913-1918. His principal works include the Secretariat, Government House and the Council Chamber of Patna.       

However, the prime feature of Secretariat is the clock tower. The present height of the clock tower is 184 feet from the ground up to the lightning conductor. “The clock’s pendulum weighs over two quintals and its minute and hour needles together weigh over 50 kg. The hour needle is 4.5 feet long while the minute needle is 5.5 feet,” said the retired engineer.

 “When the flood water entered Patna in 1975, I was then posted in the PWD in the state capital. All these buildings were under my charge. I chose to climb 276 steps of this tower to assess the flooded area. One gets a grand view of Patna from the top,” he reminisced.

 Narrating an interesting episode about the damage caused to the clock tower in British era, Choudhary said that in 1934  earthquake, an upper portion of the tower was damaged. The then executive engineer climbed the tower to assess the damage. Apart from local Patnaites, the then Bihar Governor too came to see how an executive engineer had climbed the tower. He was so impressed with the engineer’s action that he immediately recommended his promotion. This man has climbed the tower as an executive engineer. But he will come down as the superintending engineer, the Governor reportedly told his aide.”

Choudhary felt happy that the present BCD officials have ensured that the clock will be repaired by Kolkata horologists and not be replaced with a digital one. “The government should make every effort to retain the glory of this landmark,” he averred.

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